Life has been crazy busy for us recently, with decorating projects and the discovery of damp which has provoked a much needed complete redo of our play/craft room, but I’m so glad I made the time to read The Beast Hunters by Christer Lende, a new publication from the boutique female-led indie publishers Hashtag Press, after all the stress and mess it was pure joy to indulge and experience incredible immersion in this cusp of reality magic infused fantasy world where creatures or monsters live side by side with humans and sometimes you need a hero, or two to fight the rising hordes.
Whilst fitting certainly in the YA fantasy journey novel bracket, and will be loved by those who enjoyed Joseph Elliot’s The Good Hawk series and Caroline Logan’s Four Treasures series, The Beast Hunters is notably ‘clean’ despite the body count and graphic violence making it appealing to younger teens with a strong stomach such as those who may have enjoyed Evernight and Fireborn but want a bit more violence & gore.
The Beast Hunters also ideal for fans of cult SFF viewing, if you loved Supernatural for its bantering duo of hunters notably from the early seasons (pre 5) travelling from town to town investigating beastly attacks and supernatural monsters as they appear then you will love this, and if you enjoyed The Witcher whether books or with Henry Cavill then be prepared to stan this Female centric YA Journey quest in an enchanted yet dangerous landscape with an Old Western meets Nordic saga warrior wanderers for hire feel with just a dash of Scandi-noir as the trio investigate strange happenings.
Content warnings: emotional and violent abuse by father, graphic violence, death on page, graphic abdominal injuries, decapitation, blood, loss of limbs, guns, hanging, needles/syringes and injections.
Ara’s life is tough. An abusive father and disengaged mother leave our 17 year old protagonist with very little self worth, resigned that her threadbare life will never improve, and she is unworthy of care, and if they do show it then someone’s out to manipulate her.
Broken and bruised from yet another beating, unknowingly Ara’s father saves her life by ordering her to wash in the river, as she returns to find her mother slaughtered and her wounded father feebly fighting off a monster, and it is only the intervention of two Beast Hunters that saves her life.
Taking pity on the girl Khendric and Topper take Ara under their wing as they travel following whispers to the small town of Cornstead where something is terrifying the villagers not knowing who will turn next on a homicidal rampage. Can Ara save the town let alone herself?
Ara’s eyes darted from the dead beast on the floor, to her dead parents, and to the two men standing in her ruined living room…she really was useless.
I was literally sold within paragraphs in this tale invested in Ara’s story and it’s shocking no holds barred opening. A twist of fate based on cruelty and control ironically gives her the chance to escape the initial attack on her parents’ house, but she is now riddled with survivor guilt on top of the years of abuse and control from her domineering father sadly colouring her interactions with and ability to trust the two Beast Hunters who save her and take her on their journey.
But she slowly warms and learns that there is kindness without debt in this world and discovers she has much more to offer than her father made her feel, starting by a sort of Artful Dodger to Naive Topper’s Twist showing him how to get the best bargains in the marketplace and slowly awakens her ambitions and true self as she admits to her interests instead of keeping them hidden.
This is layered within an incredibly clever mystery as the trio are asked to uncover strange happenings in the town, you get the feel of a modern crime thriller meets a Viking Saga, with heroes and villains and rescues and oh my just everything.
Ara you have nothing,. I have a little more…after what happened to you, we want to get you back on your feet…its not only guilt. I think you’re a good person and we’ve grown to like you.Khendric to Ara when she is humbled that he bought her new clothes
Khendric is a grown man, heaving with experience of battling with beasts but has still retained a boyish sense of humour and kind heart. There are certainly some comparisons that could be made with Geralt of Rivera, and who could blame Christer if he was, after all Geralt is such a compelling character and who doesn’t love a rugged wanderer warrior who slays monsters! But instead Christer makes Khendric this rather interesting and unique character and whilst he seems similar in build, ethic & abilities he is indeed far less grumpy and not weary of life despite all he has seen, and boy does this character have layers, peeled back slowly and never in a predictable fashion. I love that Khendric is not a formula, he’s fully fleshed and startlingly real.
And Topper, Khendric’s apprentice is equally rounded out with passion, and Lende avoids tropes of the third wheel, fall guy or ‘straight man’ for the events that occur. His banter and jokes with Khendric belie a deep brotherhood between them, that they would die for each other, and a sensitivity and naivety not always seen in YA SFF which I found fascinating.
And I really appreciated that; the characters are complex, unpredictable, resonant and even the things you might predict from neon pointers in the text you still get a little surprise as even they present not quite as you expect and that is such a skill for a writer to capture the unpredictability & nuances of real people but within the pace & poise of fiction.
Who knows, maybe you’ll like it and become a beast hunterKhendric to Ara on her interest in pursuing a request
Overall, if you love rugged SFF of wanderers within Magical beastie worlds this elevates the genre to something gritty, and yet deeply emotive, driven by the contents of characters’ soul in contrast to the beastliness found in both creatures and in other humans.and is captured in startlingly excellent writing, I’m completely invested and hungry for more of this world.
Make sure to check out the other stops on the tour for this awesome book!!
The Beast Hunters by Christer Lende is published by Hashtag Press
Thank you for my review copy 💜